Education Spending in PWC

April 5, 2013

Two things are clear after Tuesday night’s Board meeting – first, it is obvious that each Supervisor in Prince William County is extremely concerned about properly funding our educational system.  We participated in an in-depth, honest discussion that resulted in significant progress toward addressing our educational issues.  Second, Prince William County classrooms are overcrowded and our classroom teachers are underpaid.

The heart of the problem is that we are underfunding classroom education, and the current Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA) is not living up to its full obligation.  At our meeting, School Board Chairman Milt Johns agreed with me that the current RSA share of 56.75% of county revenue simply does not cover the cost of new students entering the school system every year.  He also admitted that under the current RSA, we wouldn’t be able to reduce classroom sizes by even one child over the next 5 years.

Over the years, too many new housing developments were built too quickly which put a tremendous burden on the costs of schools, police and fire protection, and other core county services.

Those new homes attract young families to Prince William County, and new families with lots of kids increases the burden on the school system.  I speak from experience – my wife and I moved to Prince William County as a young family because of the lower taxes and lower home prices.

I believe we have a moral obligation to provide the best education we can for our kids.

Make no mistake, I believe the School Board can do much more to rein in spending on lower priority programs to apply more funding towards reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay.  I also believe that the School Board must look at ways to reduce their operating budget and find cost savings in CIP projects.  During this time of lean budgets, should the School Board be spending money on electronic signs in front of schools or a new swimming pool at the high school?  These are the questions that need to be asked if we are to be truly serious about reducing classroom sizes.

I was encouraged when Chairman Johns declared that the School Board is committing that any additional revenue they receive, above the 56.75%, will go directly toward reducing classroom sizes and paying our teachers a competitive wage.

As a father of three kids currently attending Prince William County Schools and a husband of a former PWC school teacher, I know that we have some of the best teachers in Virginia in our county school system.  They do a fantastic job and I wouldn’t think of educating my children anywhere else.

Unfortunately, our teachers work in conditions that are not optimal to teaching our children.  Prince William County Schools currently have the highest classroom sizes in the Commonwealth and we struggle to pay our teachers a competitive wage.  It is clear that the RSA is not properly meeting the needs of our students, and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that our county is among the only jurisdictions in the Commonwealth that funds their schools through an RSA, and we likewise have the largest classroom sizes.

After Chairman Johns’ presentation, I was even more convinced than I was before that we need more funding to our schools to reduce classroom sizes and pay our in-classroom teachers a competitive wage.   Prince William County has implemented a Revenue Share Agreement (RSA) with the School Board that was developed in 1998, and gives the school district 56.75% of the county revenues.  In my opinion, this funding percentage has become outdated.

Over the past several months, I have been working with my colleagues on the Board of County Supervisors to determine the best way to increase funding to the schools.  It is my strong belief that during these extraordinary times of growth within our county, we need to take bold action.  I recognize that increasing funding to the schools will require a significant re-ordering of the spending priorities by this Board and the School Board.  It will require both of us to exercise substantial discipline and sacrifice to make the very tough choices between funding lower priority programs, against the priority of educating our children.

In the end, I believe this is the challenge we have to take on as a Board.  Whether we decide to increase the school share to 62%, 60%, or 58%, we have to take action to better fund our school system.